Queensland’s education minister says her government has no plans to make changes to the Religious Instruction (RI) program despite some church groups using their access to public school classrooms to “harvest” children “for the Lord”.
In a letter to the Rationalist Society of Australia, a spokesperson for Minister Grace Grace said the government had “no plan to change the current arrangement”, with the Education Act allowing religious groups to take over classrooms for up to one hour per week to deliver RI.
In February, the RSA revealed that missionaries from Citipointe Church view the RI program as an “amazing mission field”. In a video published on social media by Citipointe Church West, the instructors talk about the opportunity to “harvest hundreds for the Lord”.
At that time, RSA president Meredith Doig wrote to Minister Grace (pictured) to call on the Palaszczuk government to remove RI from public schools.
“Students’ class time is precious learning time. It should not be appropriated by church missionaries taking over the classroom to carry out mission work. Our public schools are not churches!” wrote Dr Doig.
In a reply to the RSA in early April (see letter below), Minister Grace’s Senior Policy Advisor, Tim Shipstone, said schools must review the content of RI programs to ensure they align with departmental policies and standards.
“RI instructors must only deliver the authorised program, and parents can ask to view a copy of it at any time. In addition, only approved instructors can deliver RI and a school staff member is always present while it is being delivered,” he said.
The RSA will continue to lobby the Queensland government and state MPs for the removal of RI from class time.
“The next action we will be taking on this issue is to ask for concerned Queenslanders to write to their schools to request a copy of the programs being delivered by missionaries such as those from Citipointe,” said Dr Doig.
“The minister says these programs can be viewed at any time. So we’re urging Queenslanders to follow up with their schools, get copies of what is being taught in RI and then share this material with us.”
The RSA supports calls from a parents’ group for a full parliamentary review of the RI program.
While the Minister says no changes are currently planned, a Right to Information disclosure reveals the state education department is considering repeal of the RI law, among other options, depending on the outcome of a Supreme Court case. A decision in the case, involving a Satanic group that was prevented from participating in the program, is yet to be handed down.
Si Gladman is Campaigns & Communications Coordinator at the Rationalist Society of Australia. You can contact him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @si_gladman
Image: Grace Grace MP (Facebook)
Letter from Senior Policy Advisor Tim Shipstone, 5 April 2022
Dear Dr Doig,
Thank you for your email dated 3 February 2022 to the Honourable Grace Grace MP, Minister for Education, Minister for Industrial Relations and Minister for Racing, regarding religious instruction (RI). I have been asked to respond on the Minister’s behalf, and I apologise for the delay in responding.
I note your views about RI in Queensland state schools and your concerns about a Citipointe Church social media post promoting RI.
I wish to assure you that the Palaszczuk Government and Department of Education are committed to ensuring all students, including LGBTIQ+ and gender diverse students, can attend state schools and learn in a safe and supportive environment that is free from discrimination. As you know, Minister Grace was one of the first public figures to condemn the enrolment contract issued by Citipointe, calling it completely unacceptable.
In relation to RI, the Government has no plan to change the current arrangements. As you may be aware, in Queensland state schools, RI is provided in accordance with chapter 5 of the Education (General Provisions) Act 2006 (the Act) and part 5 of the Education (General Provisions) Regulation 2017. With the exception of Prep students, under these provisions, state schools make up to one hour per week available for faith groups to deliver RI to students who are members of that faith group.
RI is only delivered to students who have their parent’s written consent to participate. Schools provide information about RI to parents to enable them to make informed decisions about their child’s participation.
With respect to what is taught during RI, schools are required to review the content of an RI program that is to be delivered in their school to ensure it aligns with departmental policies and standards. RI instructors must only deliver the authorised program, and parents can ask to view a copy of it at any time.
In addition, only approved instructors can deliver RI and a school staff member is always present while it is being delivered.
If you have concerns about practice in a particular school, please contact the principal of the school, or the relevant regional office.
If you would like further information or assistance, please contact [sensitive information has been removed].
Thank you for sharing your views with the Minister. While I understand that this may not be the outcome you were seeking, I trust this clarifies the Government’s position about this matter.